I found a bumper sticker for John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” Have you ever listened to the lyrics of Lennon’s popular song and considered the reality of his imaginary world? What would the consequences be if there was no God, no hell below, just sky above? How would morality and justice be affected? Is this a world that you really want to imagine? If so, then in the words of Aerosmith, “Dream On.”
You and I aren’t in prison right now. We haven’t robbed a bank, forged important documents, dealt drugs, or killed anyone. Well, I know I haven’t. I’m assuming you haven’t either. People who commit such crimes, go to jail, but often times, they get out for good behavior! It seems that eternal punishment doesn’t fit the crime for people like you and me who really haven’t done anything seriously wrong. I also know that a lot of people, who are not Christians, still serve the poor and the needy, physically and financially. By our standards of law and order, only the worst of the worst would deserve hell, and even then we wouldn’t wish such a punishment upon our enemies.
We must admit that we all have lied, cheated, stolen, lusted, hated, coveted, disobeyed authority, and the like. To the degree that most of us have committed such acts, we don’t deserve time in prison or exorbitant fines. I believe we all agree that punishments should fit the crime, and the problem I think you are raising with this question is that for the degrees at which we have sinned against God, most of us, if not anyone of us, deserve eternal punishment in hell! Let me explain, however, how hell does fit the crime. If a person commits murder with a gunshot to the head, how long did the murder take? A second, but the punishment is life. This is an equal exchange, a life was taken, a life must be taken in return. If a person runs illegal dog fighting and has dogs killed, his jail sentence won’t be the same as a person who murdered another human being. Why? The life value of a dog is not as great as that of a human. In the case of God and hell, the crimes are being committed against God, and the crimes occur over the course of an entire life. The laws being broken of course are God’s laws and we must be measured by his standards, of which all of us have fallen short. To his standard, hating someone in your heart is on par with actually murdering. In your heart, you have murdered that person. By rejecting God through hatred and open rebellion to his Word, existence, and provision, you have murdered God. God is eternal. The punishment likewise, for the crime that occurred constantly over the course of your lifetime, warrants an eternal sentence.
Even though none of us are good in God’s sight, God is good and gracious. He provided a substitute for us. Imagine if someone you loved was on death row, awaiting execution, and you are innocent of crimes and the judge allowed you to take the place of your loved one and be put to death in his or her place. Most of us wouldn’t make the exchange, but if the judge saw that the substitution still met the requirements of the law, a life for a life, the exchange could occur. God being the lawgiver and judge has made a way for such an extraordinary provision of both justice and grace, and he provided the substitute by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Philippians 2:6-8 says, Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” Jesus was innocent and took the place of all of us sinners, setting us free from the penalty of eternal death.